Apple backs Queensland wind farm in bid for carbon-zero phone charging

Apple wants to make charging an iPhone or MacBook a carbon-neutral exercise by 2030, and to help meet that goal the tech giant has backed an Australian wind farm in its first clean energy project outside the US.

Apple announced on Thursday that it will purchase energy from the Upper Burdekin Wind Farm, south of Townsville, Queensland, as it aims to supply enough renewable power to the grid to make up for the energy Apple customers use to charge their devices.

Windlab’s Kennedy Energy Park, near the proposed Upper Burdekin Wind Farm backed by Apple.Credit:Windlab

“We’ve always had a philosophy that, as much as possible, we want to actually address emissions directly by taking dirty or more polluting forms of energy off the grid and adding in new clean energy,” said Apple’s vice president of environment, policy and social initiatives, Lisa Jackson.

“Where we get the most environmental return is to go to a place where you’re replacing a grid that is primarily running on fossil fuel and move to a zero-carbon form of energy like wind power.”

In April, Apple announced it had invested in a 2300-acre solar project in Texas that will produce 300 megawatts of power when it comes online later this year. Jackson first flagged Apple was scouting for Australian renewable energy projects in 2020 at the Sydney Morning Herald’s sustainability summit.

“It’s actually really cool to be able to do it in Australia, because the country is sort of facing this [climate] challenge head-on recently. We feel like it’s perfect timing,” Jackson said.

“Communities are suffering, whether it’s drought or wildfire, flooding, all the ways that weather can really manifest itself in your life. People know something needs to change.”

The 100-turbine wind farm, proposed by Windlab, is expected to start producing power in 2026. Apple has committed to buying energy equivalent to the power required to power 80,000 homes annually.

The carbon emissions produced by the use of Apple’s products is about 19 per cent of the company’s carbon footprint, compared with the 71 per cent created by the manufacturing of its devices. In 2021, about 20 per cent of material used in Apple products was recycled.

“As the recycled percentage goes up, the carbon footprint of each individual product comes down,” said Jackson. “That combined with a really long [product] life means you’re getting less and less material out of the earth. That’s all part of the opportunity for innovation in an aggressive climate program.”

Jackson ran the Environmental Protection Agency under Barack Obama from 2009 to 2013. Under her tenure, the EPA first declared carbon dioxide was harmful to human health and as a result tightened regulations for power plants and vehicles. At Apple, she’s overseen another milestone.

“In the past year at Apple, revenue went up and our carbon emissions stayed the same. And that’s a really important moment in a company’s trajectory, because you finally start to prove out that you can do this in a way that still allows for economic growth and development.”

Jackson said she still believed “the leadership has to come from government” in terms of climate action but “business has an incredibly important role to play”.

“We can show people that this kind of innovation can be as transformative as the iPhone was, as the iPod was the first time you saw it.”

As part of a suite of announcements marking 40 years of operation in Australia, Apple has also expanded its Racial Equity and Justice Initiative (REJI) to Australia, backing five Indigenous-led organisations and programs including criminal justice reform group Deadly Connections and Aboriginal business support group First Australians Capital.

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